A shot of pure Sixties' nostalgia.

James Plath's picture

The Sixties were full of choices, and not just making love vs. making war. There were serious TV issues, too, like Ginger vs. Mary Ann, or "Bewitched" vs. "I Dream of Jeannie." With those "Gilligan's Island" females it was all a matter of whether you preferred a glamour girl or the girl next door. But with the two "magic" sitcoms that went toe-to-toe, it was "Bewitched" by a nose. Make that a nose-twitch, compared to Jeannie's "blink."

The reason is simple: more people could identify with a married couple where one spouse just happens to be a witch in a marriage that was otherwise equal than they could with an astronaut who splashes down on a deserted island and finds a beautiful genie in a bottle who calls him "master" and attends to his every wish. It was unfortunately too close to male fantasy than it was to a household situation comedy, and at a time when a women's rights movement was gaining steam, it was bad timing indeed.

In fairness, though, this novelty show was still fun, and it's fun still. The premise was that Maj. Tony Nelson (Larry Hagman) didn't really bring the bottle back. A genie named Jeannie (Barbara Eden) hitched a ride back to Cape Kennedy and Cocoa Beach, Florida, and POOF, just like that a fairly successful series was born. As a warm-up for the popular secret agent spoof "Get Smart" on NBC's Saturday night line-up, "I Dream of Jeannie" cracked the Top-30 its first year, finishing at #27. But by the time the show finished, even a wedding wasn't enough to entice enough viewers to watch.

In a way, it's too bad the premise rubbed feminists the wrong way and that the episodes were so hit-and-miss in terms of the writing. If you watch now, you have to marvel at the comic genius of Hagman, who's perhaps best known for his role as J.R. Ewing, Jr. in that nighttime soaper, "Dallas." Hagman does reactionary comedy as well as anyone, and the chemistry that he and Eden shared remained strong throughout the five-year run.. In this show, Hagman managed a range of physical comedy and expressions that was every bit as good as the talented Dick Van Dyke, and he deserved at least a nomination for his efforts. In fact, comedic sideman Bill Daily, who would go on to play the spacey navigator on "The Bob Newhart Show," was also quite good as Captain Nelson's swinging bachelor buddy, Captain Roger Healey. So was Hayden Rorke as the base psychiatrist who kept trying to catch Nelson in what he knew was craziness . . . or was he crazy? And in fairness, Eden was also darned good. But writers milked Jeannie's jealousy over other women a bit too much, and brought in a few too many kookie relatives and folks from Baghdad for her to react to.

But you have to give the writers credit for one thing: they know how to tie up loose ends. After pining for Major Nelson all these years, this is the season that Jeannie gets to say "I do." After years of not catching Major Nelson "in the act" with his genie and suspecting all along that something wasn't quite right, Dr. Bellows (Rorke) finally gets some satisfaction. Naturally (and unfortunately), Jeannie's wicked twin sister has to put in a final appearance in a tired routine that reminded everyone too much of Samantha's evil cousin Serena, but the compensation for this final season is a parade of interesting guest stars: Jim Backus (speaking of "Gilligan's Island"), Jackie Coogan ("The Addams Family"), Farrah Fawcett ("Charlie's Angels"), and Dick Van Patten ("Eight is Enough").

Here's a rundown on the 26 episodes, which are contained on four single-sided discs and housed in two slim plastic keep cases, with a cardboard slipcase:

1) "Jeannie at the Piano." Returning to old form (and formula), the writers have Jeannie blink a little magic into the base piano to enable Maj. Nelson to play more than "Chopsticks" for his superiors. But they all think he's a musical genius, and they arrange for him to play a concert tour. Naturally, that little red piano comes into play.

2) "Djinn, Djinn, the Pied Piper." I don't know who liked these episodes with Jeannie's dog, but I can only think of one funny one, and it was when the dog acted like a piranha and tore apart a uniform. But in this episode, when Gen. Schaeffer (Vinton Hayworth) invites Tony to bring the dog to the part to help him exercise his own dog, Jupiter, Djinn Djinn turns invisible again. Kind of dumb the second, third, or fourth time around.

3-4) "Guess Who's Going to Be a Bride?" Parts 1-2. Shades of earlier episodes again, Jeannie's Uncle Suleiman (Coogan) visits, expecting Jeannie to take over his kingdom after he abdicates. Naturally, Tony misses her, after she leaves, and he proposes.

5) "Jeannie's Beauty Cream." Trouble ensues when Jeannie creates a face cream that turns Mrs. Bellows (Emmaline Henry) into a woman so young and beautiful that not even her husband recognizes her.

6) "Jeannie and the Bachelor Party." Tony doesn't want a party, but that doesn't stop Roger and Dr. Bellows from throwing him one. Reminds you of a "Laugh-In" sketch.

7) "The Blood of a Jeannie." The marriage hits a snag when Jeannie tells Tony she has green corpuscles instead of red, and Tony suggests she get a substitute to help her pass Dr. Bellows' blood test.

8) "I'll See You in C.U.B.A." Jeannie blinks Tony down from an experimental aircraft, but accidentally blinks both him and the aircraft to Havana. Not the strongest episode.

9) "Jeannie & the Mad Home Wrecker." Mrs. Bellows and her husband give Jeannie and Tony the ugliest piece of modern art as an early present, and it goes from bad to worse when the NASA staff chips in to have the same artist re-do Tony's house . . . MOD.

10) "Uncles A-Go-Go." One of Jeannie's uncles must approve of Tony, or else there will be no wedding. But Tony is finding it impossible to make both men happy at once.

11) "The Wedding." Another snag. Genies are invisible in photos. How can you explain that to a wedding photographer--especially when every photographer in town has been given permission to capture the wedding on film?

12) "My Sister, the Home Wrecker." Jeannie's twin tries to break them up by making one final play for Tony, pretending to be Jeannie and convincing Roger and Dr. and Mrs. Bellows that she's having an affair. Michael Ansara, who played one of the Baghdad crowd earlier in the series, turns up again as Major Biff Jelico.

13) "Jeannie, the Matchmaker." Jeannie tries to help Roger find a date through a computer dating agency; meanwhile, Tony is arranging a date for Roger with the General's niece on the same night.

14) "Never Put a Genie on a Budget." After Jeannie goes on a spending spree, Tony tries to teach her frugality . . . which backfires when they're to entertain a visiting Russian cosmonaut.

15) "Please Don't Give My Jeannie No More Wine." Jeannie blinks up a bottle of wine at the Bellows' home, but it unfortunately doesn't get them drunk . . . it makes them invisible. Some funny moments.

16) "One of Our Hotels is Growing." Told there's no room at the Inn, Jeannie blinks a 13th floor for her, Tony, Roger and the Bellows'. One of the season's best episodes.

17) "The Solid Gold Jeannie." Jeannie blinks herself into Tony's decontamination chamber after one of his flights, unknowing that she has to remain hidden there for 21 days with Tony, Roger, and another astronaut.

18) "Mrs. Djinn Djinn." Roger spreads a rumor that Jeannie is expecting, when it's really Mrs. Djinn Djinn who's going to give birth. Another one for the dogs.

19) "Jeannie and the Curious Kid." When the Bellows' troublemaking nephew stays at the Nelson house for a few days, he discovers Jeannie's secret. As Samantha would say, "Well . . ."

20) "Jeannie, the Recording Secretary." Jeannie joins an officers' wives' club and can't fight the temptation to use her magic to try to win a trip for two to Hawaii.

21) "Help, Help, a Shark!" When Tony causes Gen. Schaeffer to lose a big game of billiards, the only thing that can save him is Jeannie's blinking magic.

22) "Eternally Yours, Jeannie." When an old high school flame writes Tony that she'll be visiting, Jeannie has another of her fits of jealousy.

23) "An Astronaut in Sheep's Clothing." On their six-month wedding anniversary, Jeannie and Tony experience a version of "A Gift of the Magi," wanting to give gifts but not having it work out.

24) "Hurricane Jeannie." Holed up in the Nelson home because of foul weather, Dr. Bellows finally witnesses an act of genie magic.

25) "One Jeannie Beats Four of a Kind." A card shark has been robbing NASA officers, and with Jeannie's help, Tony tries to teach him a lesson.

26) "My Master, the Chili King." So how does a series wrap up after five long seasons? By having Maj. Nelson endorse a can of chili without NASA's permission, and getting in such doo-doo that not even Jeannie can help him, it would seem.

As with the second through fourth seasons (the first was black-and-white) there's some graininess, but the video quality is surprisingly good. The colors are sharp and well-delineated, with no bleed, and there are moments when the grain seems to disappear (as with the blink of an eye!). "I Dream of Jeannie" is presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio.

The audio is Dolby Digital Mono, with the sound concentrated in the center speaker. Sometimes Mono can sound perfectly natural, while other times it feels as if the sound is coming from inside a jar . . . or in this case, a bottle. The music and opening credits are especially loud, but when the first scene of each episode begins, it's like a whisper. A little better mixing would keep us all from having to keep pressing the volume control.

There are no extras.

Bottom Line:
"I Dream of Jeannie" is a shot of pure Sixties' nostalgia. It will never make anyone's list of Top-TV Shows, but it will remain a part of TV history as a good example of novelty programming in the psychedelic era. Hagman and Eden really did click together, and Daily honed his comic chops for bigger and better things.


Film Value